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March 23, 2012
Phoenix Stuns
Louisville Suffocates Michigan State

by Jeff Nusser

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WEST

(4) Louisville 57, (1) Michigan State 44 [60 possessions]
In case you weren't aware, the Cardinals are pretty good at this thing called "scoring prevention." The Spartans could only muster 0.73 points per possession after exceeding 1.08 in each of the past five contests. Meanwhile, the 0.73 was the 11th consecutive sub-1.00 performance by a Louisville opponent. The explanation was simple. The Spartans couldn't shoot (effective FG percentage: 34), couldn't hang onto the ball (turnover percentage: 25), and didn't grab many of their own misses (offensive rebound percentage: 22). That is not a recipe for success. Draymond Green, so effective through the first weekend, could muster only 13 points on 16 shots, going 1-for-7 from three. Gorgui Dieng had a lot to do with Michigan State's ineptitude, blocking seven shots and altering many others. The Cardinals weren't exactly a juggernaut on offense themselves, but their 0.94 points per possession were plenty good enough, thanks largely to shooting 39 percent on 23 threes.

(7) Florida 68, (3) Marquette 58 [67]
There was little doubt heading into the tournament that the Gators possessed a championship caliber offense, but many questions remained about the defense. Excellent performances against Virginia and Norfolk State were met with guarded optimism, given that each opponent ranked in the middle third of Division I in adjusted offensive efficiency. However, holding the Golden Eagles to 0.86 points per possession -- they'd be expected to score 1.10 against an average opponent on a neutral floor -- represents perhaps their crowning achievement. Marquette could only muster 32 percent on twos as Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom combined for just 29 points on 30 shots. Florida's Bradley Beal is cementing his status as a rising star, scoring 21 points on just 10 shots.

EAST

(1) Syracuse 64, (4) Wisconsin 63 [52 possessions]
Don't let the low point totals fool you: This game featured two practically unstoppable offenses, and each was unstoppable for completely different reasons. As predicted, the Badgers shot threes with stunning frequency, but in a development few could have predicted, they made 14 of those 27 attempts from beyond the arc. At one point, Wisconsin hit threes on six consecutive possessions to take a three-point lead on Syracuse with seven minutes to go. But the Orange were able to hold the Badgers off by extending the zone and then scoring at will in the lane, hitting 22 of their 40 shots inside the arc (55 percent). This came against a team that allowed just 44 percent on twos in conference play, second-best in the Big Ten.

The game was a perfect example of what makes Syracuse a "your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine" pick on any given night. The Badgers did an expert job of moving the ball in and out of the matchup zone to generate wide open shots from the perimeter -- very few of those 27 attempts from beyond the arc were contested. Beyond that, Wisconsin turned the ball over just six times on its way to 1.20 points per possession, as Syracuse continues to show just how vulnerable it is to teams that are smart and can really shoot. Yet the Orange offense was so good -- so balanced, with four players scoring in double figures -- they were able to survive an almost surreal barrage, the likes of which this tournament had not yet seen. It keeps feeling like this team is destined to lose to someone it probably shouldn't lose to, but maybe the Syracuse offense is just that good.

(2) Ohio State 81, (6) Cincinnati 66 [69]
The Buckeyes took the Bearcats' best shot and came out with a double-digit victory. Cincinnati, which trailed by 12 at halftime, actually led by four with just under 12 minutes to go after starting the second half by outscoring OSU 27-11. But then the Buckeyes ended with a run of their own, closing the game out by outscoring Cincinnati 33-14. The run was keyed by Aaron Craft, who scored all 11 of his points in the final 11 minutes as he continues to do his very best to make sure that he's no longer viewed as simply a defensive pest. (Although he did have a pair of steals, too.) Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas each topped 20 points. This game was a great example of how shooting will only get you so far; these teams finished in a virtual dead heat in effective FG percentage, but Cincinnati struggled with hanging onto the ball (turning the ball over on 26 percent of their possessions) and didn't secure many offensive rebounds (posting an identical number for offensive rebound percentage).

Jeff Nusser is the Editor of CougCenter and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @NussCoug. This free article is an example of the content available to Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers. See our Premium page for more details and to subscribe.

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